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Vilas County shoreline zoning amendment fails

February 28, 2020 by Kayla Houp

A resolution amending the Vilas County Shoreland Zoning Ordinance pertaining to boathouse regulations failed Tuesday in an 8-4 vote.

Among the major proposed changes to the resolution were permitting larger boat houses up to 720 square feet on Vilas County lakes of more than 500 acres and expanding the ordinary high water mark, or setback, to 35 feet.

While the Vilas County Board of Supervisors did have a quorum for its meeting Tuesday, nine members of the board had absences that were excused, leaving just 12 county board members to decide the resolution’s fate.

Prior to board deliberation, county supervisor Jay Verhulst introduced the resolution.

“First of all, the way the committee dealt with this issue was to tentatively step off into looking at the creation of larger boathouses,” Verhulst said. 

Verhulst added that the committee had made the decision that “over a dozen different requirements needed to be put in place in order for Vilas County to even entertain the idea of allowing larger boathouses.”

As the committee moved forward with its deliberations, Verhulst said the committee had put in place requirements he felt needed the outside consultation of other departments, such as requiring a mitigation plan being created and implemented prior to breaking ground.

Verhulst said he considered that mitigation process to be a review by the land and water staff in order to have the zoning staff aware of issues that might not have been addressed in a zoning meeting. 

As the resolution moved forward, Verhulst said that criticisms were brought forward by a town committee for a lake association that opposed the resolution.

In looking at the opposition, Verhulst said there had been only three members to the lake association committee, with the committee bringing forward an issue of three studies that the committee “failed to provide.”

When Verhulst looked into the studies, he stated he could only find two of the three studies, with one being 20 years old and the other 16. 

Verhulst added that other restrictions had been put in place, such as the boathouses being limited to lakes and not rivers or streams, which further narrowed down how many Vilas County residents could apply for a permit

He added that all of the considerations discussed were brought up at the committee level prior to the resolution coming to the board.

“I would ask that we refrain from the great deal of controversy in discussing this issue as we go forward,” he said 

‘The convenience of the few’

Following Verhulst’s comments, county chair Ron De Bruyne called upon each of the county supervisors to comment on the resolution.

Several supervisors spoke in opposition to the amended resolution, starting with county supervisor Marv Anderson.

During Anderson’s comments, he brought up a letter written by county supervisor Chuck Hayes, who was absent from the meeting, that was a “short overview” of Hayes’ opposition to the resolution.

In his letter, Hayes references the public hearing held regarding the amended ordinance where six town boards shared their formal opposition, as well as several lake associations.

According to Hayes, the general opposition was based on “risk to the environment and a deterioration to the climate of the lake.

“The majority of the Zoning Committee has airily dismissed all objections regarding environmental risks as opinions instead of facts,” Hayes wrote.

Those opinions, he continued were “based on solid facts gleaned from years of scientific research” summarized in an attached memo from the University of Wisconsin Center for Limnology dated Feb. 7.

“Passing this resolution to provide for the convenience of the few while dismissing the objections raised by the unprecedented number of town boards, lake organizations and individuals who have contacted us is simply not what we were elected to do,” Hayes wrote.

Anderson also voiced concerns about enforcement and complaints raised by adjoining property owners.

“I’ve seen overwhelming responses from towns. We now have half the township within this county that are opposed to this,” Anderson said. “To me, that sends a significant message, whether I like this proposal or not.”

Other board members, such as supervisors Ron Kressin, Jerry Burkett, Erv Teichmiller, Tom Maulson, and Bob Hanson, as well as De Bruyne, spoke similarly to Anderson, citing a need to support the constituents regardless of their opinion on the resolution.

“If the constituents have advised the town boards to be against it, then I guess I’m against it also,” De Bruyne said.

Support of the resolution came from county supervisors Kim Simac, Todd Achterberg, Steve Doyen, and Charles Rayala.

“Sometimes I hear people saying there’s so much clutter looking down the shoreline,” Simac said. “You can tuck some of this away off on the land, and with the provisons that we put together, I don’t see why there’s so much outcry.”

Simac added that there was a lot of “misinformation and lack of information” circling around.

“I am a property rights person. I think people, within reason, should be able to do what they want with their property, and I think this is within reason,” she said.

Approximately 50 lakes in Vilas County meet the 500-plus acreage requirement for the amended ordinance


Conflict of interest

During the board’s discussion and prior to voting on the resolution, the question of whether or not county supervisor Todd Achterberg’s work installing boat lifts constituted a conflict of interest was raised.

The issue was first raised by Achterberg when De Bruyne called on him to comment on his feelings toward the resolution.

When Achterberg expressed the intent to abstain from the vote, he was informed by county clerk Dave Alleman that, since Achterberg had already taken part in the deliberation of the resolution, he had missed his opportunity to recuse himself and had to vote.

At the time, Achterberg stated he intended to vote in favor of the resolution.

A short time later, when De Bruyne called on county supervisor Erv Teichmiller to speak, Teichmiller also raised the question as to whether Achterberg had a conflict of interest pertaining to the resolution on the floor.

“I don’t see Mr. Achterberg having a direct financial connection to the issue at hand, which is the adoption of an ordinance that could permit  boathouses, anymore than if we had a carpenter sitting here that possibly could be hired to shingle the roof of said boathouse,” Alleman said, adding that he believed Achterberg was mistaken that there was a great financial reason to warrant recusal.

Corporation counsel Jack Albert agreed, stating that “he’s not in the business of constructing boathouses, so there isn’t a direct conflict with his business.”

Opting out

Anderson also brought to the board’s attention the possibility of towns opting out of the ordinance.

If a town did wish to opt out of the ordinance, Anderson said it would take “several months” to get everything properly organized through agendized meetings and public hearings.

According to zoning administrator Dawn Schmidt, four towns, Presque Isle, Manitowish Waters, St. Germain, and Lac du Flambeau could opt out of the ordinance by passing their own ordinance

Anderson cautioned the board, stating that should the county pass the resolution, it ran the risk of towns coming to the county to opt out of the ordinance and the county having already approved permits in those towns during that time span it took for the town to form a response.

“That would be ludicrous to do that. It’s almost backwards,” he said.

Teichmiller asked if those towns would be given “adequate” time to opt out before permits were filed, or if a clause granting permission to file opposition prior to permits being filed should be included in the amendment.

However, amending the resolution further would cause additional delays.

“That’s hardly a good reason not to amend an ordinance, which in some ways, would tie the hands of four towns that have already said they don’t want to have a larger sized boathouses,” Teichmiller said.

De Bruyne called for the vote on the resolution with a ‘yes’ vote indicating support of the resolution to amend the ordinance and a ‘no’ vote indicating opposition.

Of the board members present, eight voting in opposition of the resolution, including Anderson, Kressin, Burkett, Teichmiller, Maulson, Hanson, Achterberg, and De Bruyne; four members voted in favor, including Simac, Steve Doyen, Charles Rayala, and Verhulst.

Kayla Houp may be reached via email at [email protected].


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